What the Original 'Lost' Series Guide Teaches About Selling vs. Writing a Show

When you sit down to watch a film or TV show, do you ever wonder what the original pitch was, and how much it differs from what you're watching on-screen? One of the biggest shows of the last decade, Lost, could have been quite different from what it eventually became according to a leaked series guide for the show, detailing the writers' early plans. Considering the fact that it was drafted to get the show picked up by ABC, it's safe to say the process of writing a show and selling a show is pretty different, so check out the original document to not only see how much the pitched show and aired show differ, but also get an idea of what such a document contains (in case you needed an example.)

According to an exclusive with writer Damon Lindelof, SlashFilm explains that the original document was an outline that would was meant to appeal to the network, and didn't reflect the show Lindelof and J.J. Abrams necessarily wanted to make. It was supposed to, "prove to ABC -- that this show was not just scripted Survivor. It was a viable show with a long shelf life."

In the Lost document, it details a show that is similar and different in certain areas. The original premise was essentially the same: a bunch of plane crash survivors inhabit a mysterious island. The characters are all there, several episodes were accepted and aired, certain elements stuck, like the smoke monster and mystical occurrences, albeit much more subdued.

The original plan, or rather the one Lindelof and Abrams dressed up for the network, was to have no central, overarching, "ultimate mystery," promising logical explanations for all of the weird occurrences. Possibly the biggest difference, though, is the original plan to make the series episodic, with self-contained episodes, which is emphatically proclaimed in the document (done so, because ABC President Steve McPherson was wary of longevity.)

So, where did the show we saw up one our TV screens come from? Lost wasn't episodic. Lost didn't have logical explanations for everything. There was a huge "ultimate mystery!" Lindelof tells SlashFilm:

By the time we started breaking the first two episodes, it was already very clear to everyone in the room that the document that we had written to get the show picked up was going to be completely and totally null and void.

Ratings speak louder than words, though. With 18.65 million viewers tuning in to watch the first episode of Lost, any network intransigence is sure to fall away -- at least in this case. And it seems as though the gap between what's on paper and what ends up on-screen can be significantly wide, considering, of course, who is reading and going to invest in what's on that paper -- indicating that writing to sell your film/show is quite different than writing the film/show itself.

Do you find that your pitches are significantly different from your end product? What about the writing process? After reading the document, what aspects of the show would you have liked to see stay/go?


[via The Verge]

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Your Comment


Shows will often diverge from the original premise. "Seinfeld" wasn't really "Seinfeld" until a year into its run. Then the show changed its approach drastically again half a decade later. The "Newsradio" changed its style in its second year, when it switched from a so-so office sitcom to a brilliant absurd comedy. The same happened with "Married ... with Children" too. And I bet most studio/network execs didn't even know what hit them. It was sort of an organic change.

September 23, 2013 at 8:10PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


The original plot for lost was written by Jeffrey Lieber. You can read it here:

Here's more on his story:

September 24, 2013 at 2:57AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


I watch the 2 first season and after they lost me !

September 26, 2013 at 1:53PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

Pierre Samuel Rioux

If you're talking to indie folks like most of us, we don't "pitch" anything to anyone. We film the thing... ideas can be stolen.

September 26, 2013 at 7:34PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

You voted '+1'.

Indie filmmakers pitch all the time...

September 26, 2013 at 8:46PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

Ryan Koo

Without wanting to sound arrogant, but I’ve outlined three seasons for a mysterious show that could become as awesome and successful as Lost. I haven’t written a pilot because I think that others who have done shows before would do a much better job, but I’ve got the whole idea written down. Whom could I send it to?

October 2, 2013 at 1:39PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

Edward Rosenthal